Family History - Traude & Franz
Traude and Franz were opposed to the Nazi cause. Whenever a rally had been set and all of their neighbors had their swastika flags out on display, their windowsill was conspicuously barren of patriotic patronage. Apart from opposing the racist ideologies and national fanaticism that they were sure would bring ruin upon them and their country, they also had personal reasons for their opposition.
Franz’s brother, Otto, had a thriving jewelry store above which he lived. In fact, he owned the entire building. When the Nazis came, they decided that Otto’s building was literally prime real estate, that they would convert it to a headquarters for that district. Without any recompense, as loyalty to the party cause was its own reward, Otto’s building was unceremoniously taken from him and converted. A business that he had built up over many years evaporated overnight in an act of government fiat.
Then there was Traude’s sister, Magdalena. Magdalena had committed a cardinal sin in the eyes of the new regime. She had married a Jewish husband. Jakob was a successful businessman who had always lived a lavish lifestyle. He had a large car that had a retractable roof. He had rings on his fingers and, as Magdalena and Jakob did not have any children of their own, they would always come bearing a cornucopia of gifts, for their niece, my grandmother, Hilde.
Magdalena and Traude were inseparable, and both knew exactly what the new regime meant for Magdalena. Magdalena would either have to leave Jakob or leave her homeland. The writing was literally on the walls. Store windows had been defaced with the term “Jude” (Jew) in Vienna, and the antisemitic vitriol that had been simmering just below the surface was now beginning to boil over. Jakob, with his ostensible display of success, and Magdalena’s intransigence with regard to her marriage, made them prime targets for this madness of mass malevolence.
Jakob, using the connections and money he had made through his business, found a route of exit to friends in France. So, one day, soon after the annexation, Traude and her sister bade each other farewell, tearfully assuring each other that they would be reunited once sanity was restored. As the years progressed and the war escalated, the letters between the two sisters became more and more infrequent.
I don’t know exactly how the news reached Traude but at some point, she was made aware that both Magdalena and Jakob had been removed to “the East”. That was the last she ever heard of her sister. Until her dying day Traude insisted that, even if Jakob had not survived, Magdalena had. She insisted that Magdalena had somehow survived and that she was living out her life in the Czech Republic. The knowledge that, had Magdalena survived the war, she would have reinitiated contact, was never brought up and Traude held onto this fantasy as fact until her dying day.
Upon having received the news about her sister’s removal, Traude’s silence and passive acquiescence turned into grief and anger. Perhaps it was due to the sickening feeling of not having been able to save her beloved sister that she began to do something. Not doing anything was no longer an option under a government that had taken her sister from her.
Traude’s resistance came in the form of servitude. Her veil of wary apathy was drawn back and, in its place, began to shine a beacon of benevolence to which the persecuted were drawn. It had always been known that Traude and Franz had no love lost for the Nazi party. Although it was never discussed openly, as doing so could result in harsh punishment, everyone knew that my great-grandparents had suffered and lost under the Nazi regime and that they were potential allies in an otherwise dark time.
Families came to their house under cover of darkness with suitcases filled with necessities and a few valuables. These suitcases were intended to be picked up by the families at a moment’s notice should they get the tipped off that the government was coming for them. Over the months and years, the suitcases began to accumulate; in the end many of them sat there unclaimed, their owners having met their fate before the possibility of escape.
As times grew tougher, Traude would use her privileged status as wife of a CEO of a manufacturing plant to buy scarce produce such as fresh vegetables and fruits. These she would distribute to the less fortunate families. Franz, in his own act of resistance, and also as an act of self-preservation, would bribe physicians to come up with a list of ailments that kept him from being drafted into the Wehrmacht. When that no longer sufficed, he went to the local plenipotentiary and bribed him to aver that Franz’s position as CEO in the manufacturing plant was too vital for the wartime economy.
And so, the lowkey resistance rolled on. Help was proffered, what little could be done was done. Franz and Traude always had the thoughts of the concentration camps in the back of their minds, knowing that they were first and foremost responsible for their daughter, my grandmother, Hilde.